South Africa

What will Zuma do: What does turning tide mean for Yesterday’s Man?

By Ranjeni Munusamy 29 August 2016

A year ago, some of President Jacob Zuma’s allies were floating the idea of a third term for him as ANC leader. Now even his most ardent supporters know Zuma is a dead weight. The local government election results clearly signalled that people are fed up with him, even though the ANC is reluctant to admit it. The Hawks investigation against Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan has been pinned on Zuma, prompting more prominent voices in society to speak out against him. The clearest sign that Zuma’s political capital has diminished is the decision by the Gupta family to cut and run. Even the SACP, which fought zealously for Zuma to be president, wants his powers cut. By RANJENI MUNUSAMY.

Had it not been revealed that Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan was ordered by the Hawks to present himself at their offices and had he decided to comply with the order, one has to wonder what might have happened last week. Would Zuma have decided that Gordhan was effectively a suspect and removed him from his position? Would the economy have bottomed out? Who would be our finance minister now?

The big question is, if events had gone according to plan, would the Gupta family have announced on Saturday that they would be selling all their shareholding in their South African businesses? The family said in a media statement that they were “already in discussions with several international prospective buyers and will soon be in a position to make further announcements”.

“We believe that this decision is in the best interests of our business, the country and our colleagues,” the statement read. 

The Guptas are really having a torrid time. Apart from being unable to wrestle Gordhan out of the finance ministry yet, their lucrative partnerships with state-owned enterprises are being exposed and threatened.

A National Treasury report has revealed that Eskom paid more than R130-million to a Gupta-owned company, Tegeta Exploration and Resources, for coal that could not be used. The Guptas threatened to go to court to stop the report from being made public. The Sunday Times also reported that Treasury was planning to go to court over Denel’s partnership with another Gupta company, VR Laser Asia. The paper said Treasury’s legal head Rebecca Tee had sent letters to Denel demanding that the weapons maker dissolve its partnership or face legal action.

The Gupta family has also been hit by revelations by amaBhungane that another Gupta-linked firm, Trillian, was extracting cash out of Transnet at an alarming rate. AmaBhungane reported that R167-million was paid from Transnet to Trillian. The Treasury is also investigating contracts between the companies.

So it is quite obvious why the Treasury is the bane of the Guptas existence. If the Treasury is questioning their current deals, their hopes of scoring big through the proposed nuclear build programme are now crushed. Any hope that their good friend, President Zuma, would be able to protect their profitable deals is also diminishing. Zuma is himself under serious pressure and cannot push buttons in the state or the ANC as easily as he could a year ago.

The Guptas could not have been reassured by the presidency’s clarification this week that Zuma would not have direct involvement in the reform of the state-owned companies through the establishment of presidential SOE co-ordinating council.

“It is not to directly run projects or usurp responsibilities of line function ministers,” the presidency said. This will not make life any better for the Guptas, who are still battling for government to intervene on their behalf to get South Africa’s banks to do business with them again.

While it was possible in the past to secure people’s co-operation or intervention through an invitation to lunch at Saxonwold or a phone call from Number One, the Guptas are now pariahs. And Zuma is fast becoming a lame duck president.

The ANC Youth League (ANCYL), which a year ago was punting the idea of Zuma staying on as ANC president for another term, said last week that there should be an early national conference to elect a new leadership. Shortly after his election last year, ANCYL president Collen Maine said youth league members were “consistent in that they were in favour of Zuma serving a third term”. That “consistency” seems to have changed now. While the ANCYL and its “premier league” faction want to handpick the next set of top six leaders in the ANC, even they are not so idiotic to have Zuma on their slate. They will try to protect Zuma’s position in the state so that he completes his term but his usefulness to their faction is diminishing.

This weekend the South African Communist Party (SACP) made it clear that they are no longer part of the Zuma fan club. In a media briefing after a central committee meeting, the SACP said “the manner in which the ANC chose to campaign by foregrounding President Zuma and not local issues and local mayoral candidates played straight into the hands of the opposition campaign”. The party said the opposition was therefore able to focus on “our national leadership shortcomings – whether real or alleged”.

The SACP slammed the “ongoing harassment” of Gordhan, saying the investigation against him had an “eerie similarity” to the time Zuma was probed for corruption. “The current harassment of Comrade Gordhan bears an uncanny resemblance to those events, where judicial processes are used and abused for political ends.”

At the time, the SACP maintained that state agencies were used by former president Thabo Mbeki in a political campaign against Zuma. The fact that the party itself now drew a parallel between the two cases is quite shocking.

In response to questions about widespread expectations that SACP leaders would be culled in a pending Cabinet reshuffle, SACP general secretary Blade Nzimande said it would not be a “train smash” if they were no longer ministers. He said they were “irritated” by suggestions that they are serving in Cabinet because they are looking for jobs. Trying to “dangle” Cabinet positions in order to silence the SACP would not work, Nzimande said.

It is almost a dare for Zuma to fire them.

The ANC has steered clear of responding formally to the issues raised in the fiery speech by former foreign affairs director-general Sipho Pityana at former minister Makhenkesi Stofile’s funeral last week. Pityana was scathing of the ANC and Zuma in particular, saying had the president attended the funeral, he would have pleaded with him to resign for “humiliating” the organisation. To make matters worse, the Sunday Times reported that it had been Stofile’s last wish that Zuma not speak at his funeral. Pityana’s speech has resonated in society, emboldening more people to speak out.

For the second time in his career, Zuma could be politically isolated. When he was fired as deputy president of the country and charged with corruption and rape, he was treated as an outcast in the ANC. Since the announcement of the election results, when four women staged an anti-rape protest, Zuma has not appeared on any public platforms. He has not responded to any of the debates around him or spoken himself of the commotion around Gordhan. Zuma’s time away from the country, travelling this weekend from Kenya to Swaziland and then to China, gives him a breather from domestic issues.

Zuma will have to face the country at some stage. Will he feel secure enough to speak on public platforms knowing the level of discontent is growing and that he cannot anticipate how he will next be confronted about his scandals and controversies? Zuma will also have to return to Parliament to answer questions – with an emboldened opposition waiting to pounce. With his political capital declining fast, he will also be unsure of who in the ANC he can trust as more and more people will back away from him.

The best way for Zuma to defuse the hostility around him would be to admit his shortcomings and take responsibility for his bad leadership, poor decisions and for causing damage to the ANC and the country. He can also devolve some of his functions to the deputy president and ministers, and allow for more collective decision-making in the ANC – to counter what the SACP has now termed “presidentialism”.

If Zuma really wants to regain some of the public trust he has destroyed, he can speak to the nation and undertake not to make any more risky decisions such as firing ministers to do his friends’ bidding. He can also instruct his Police Minister Nkosinathi Nhleko to stop using the Hawks as a political weapon to persecute their enemies.

There is always another option, which is for Zuma to admit his mistakes and resign. That would, of course, be completely out of the question as Zuma, his family and his allies have too much vested in his presidency to suddenly quit. 

And then there is the most likely option, which is to continue with business as usual, with even more stringent security measures around Zuma to protect him from the people he leads. Zuma would go on laughing at the criticism of his leadership and dust off attempts to hold him accountable. He would continue to allow looting and abuse of the state, and preside over the wars in government. He would also still require the ANC to act as his shield in Parliament and push his organisation further down the path of self-destruction.

Perhaps the most feared option would be for Zuma to seek to consolidate his power. In order to do this, Zuma would have to manipulate ANC structures and exercise full control of the state. Our democracy is safeguarded by the Constitution, which defines powers, functions and responsibilities. Eschewing accountability systems and appropriating control of state functions and resources would require suspending the Constitution – or as Zuma has joked several times, becoming a “dictator” for a few months. With Zuma already getting away with violating the Constitution once, civil society would need to watch closely to prevent this happening again.

Even with everyone around him running for cover, Zuma remains like a rotting corpse as the head of the ANC and the country. By the time he is replaced as ANC president, he will be completely isolated and powerless. After a once celebrated role in the liberation struggle and peace-making efforts in the country and the continent, Zuma is headed for an inglorious end. The only question is how long before this happens. DM

Photo: The New Age Board Chairman Atul Gupta and President Jacob Zuma and the First Lady MaNtuli Zuma. President Jacob Zuma at the Bidvest Wanderers Stadium for the T20 match between South Africa and India. South Africa. 30/03/2012. (Photo: Presidency of South Africa)


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